Joshua Burt defends graduate thesis, “Large-Scale Organization of Microcircuit Specialization in Human Cortex”

August 4, 2020

On July 29, 2020, Josh Burt successfully defended his thesis, “Large-Scale Organization of Microcircuit Specialization in Human Cortex” (advisor John Murray).

Burt explained “Human behavior, cognition, and perception are the result of the fluctuating activity of billions of interconnected neurons in the brain. However, scientists do not fully understand how brain structure gives rise to brain function. (Scientists don’t know how any symptom of any psychiatric disorder is generated, either.) To relate brain structure to brain function, I worked with many collaborators to develop models of brain activity that were more biologically realistic than their predecessors. These models successfully reproduced key features of brain function that are observed experimentally in MRI data. The work presented in this thesis advances our understanding of structure-function relationships in the brain and identifies a key principle of human brain organization. Next-generation models of brain activity that utilize the computational framework described in this thesis may also bring us closer to developing effective and individualized treatments for patients with psychiatric or neurodegenerative disorders.”

Burt is deciding what to do post degree.

Thesis Abstract: Neural circuit dynamics across a range of spatiotemporal scales endow the brain with specialized computational capabilities that subserve human cognition and behavior. Technological advances and big data initiatives in recent years have revolutionized our understanding of the brain’s multi-scale architecture. Yet there remains a major disconnect in linking large-scale dynamics of networked neural systems to their underlying circuit mechanisms. Biophysically-based computational modeling of neural systems provides a uniquely powerful framework for mechanistically linking these levels of analysis. This dissertation develops an extensible computational framework that integrates multi-modal brain data with neural systems modeling. We leverage this approach to link regional physiological differences in brain microcircuitry to the large-scale specialization of brain function. We further demonstrate how this modeling framework can generate and test predictions for the large-scale functional impacts of molecular perturbations, with relevance to psychiatry.